May 15 - At Least They're Trying In The Sunshine State
I've always thought that Major League Baseball in Florida was a bad idea -- at best a money grab by
baseball and its owners, at worst a talent-diluting trip into a region whose summers feature
oppressive heat better suited for beach weather and afternoon squalls better suited for indoor activity.
Wait, the Devil Rays do play indoors. More on that later...
March is the time for Florida baseball. The weather is ideal, hope springs eternal for everyone... even
the Devil Rays.
Then April hits... Yes, the Marlins have won two World Series in about 15 years of existence, but the
treatment their fans have received with the dismantling of both Championship squads is sad --
That being said, I read today that the Devil Rays will host a series this week against the Texas
Rangers at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando. Players will arrive early before each
game to meet fans and sign autographs, and tickets for the 9,500-seat venue will range mostly from
$15-49, according to an article by Mel Antonen in USA Today.
I say, "Bravo" to this effort to expand the team's reach around the state. The Rays have been a dismal
failure, both in the standings, where they have escaped the A.L. East cellar just once since joining the
circuit a decade ago, and at the box office, where the ill-conceived location, substandard facility and
poor on-field product have been an impossible triple play to overcome. When it's 90+ degrees and
90+ humidity, Gulf Coasters are hitting the beaches of the Gulf Coast. When it's perfect baseball
weather, who wants to sit inside a sterile dome? Praying for rain so you can maximize attendance
isn't likely to work its way into your marketing.
Today, both Sunshine State teams face critical stadium and competitive issues if they are to survive.
After paring its roster to the bare minimum with rookies at nearly every spot, Florida made a solid run
at a playoff spot in 2006, and seems to have a talent base in place that, if allowed to remain intact,
could again challenge soon. But with ownership and the stadium issue still looming, the franchise's
future in Miami is tenuous at best.
The Rays' young position players have developed well, and though the lack of pitching depth is still
the product of its near-minimum salary status, they have the beginnings of a top of the rotation duo in
Scott Kazmir and the surprising James Shields.
Now, what to do with this potential? According to Antonen's piece, the Rays are trying to expand their
fan base around the state, even bringing in popular stock car racing legend Richard Petty to meet
fans at the Disney games.
The team has already formally applied for name and uniform changes, which, given the lack of history
or tradition in its current brand, is a great move. When the Orioles took "Baltimore" off their away
jerseys in favor of "Orioles," it was a misguided -- and unnecessary -- attempt to broaden their region
to include Metro D.C. The Rays' efforts won't meet with any such uproar.
If that move doesn't work out, it may also be their last one.